Pecan Sticky Buns {TWD-BWJ}

Our second May recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie is one with which I am very familiar. Growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, sticky buns were an almost ubiquitous morning treat. After leaving PA Dutch country, I tried so-called sticky buns literally from coast to coast. None of them could hold a candle to any that I had growing up. And of the sticky buns in Lancaster County, none could compare to the ones made by Melinda Fisher.

I was close friends with the Fisher boys growing up — John, Jake, and David — and was lucky enough to spend many nights at their house. Dan and Melinda grew up Amish, and although they no longer lived on a farm, they still breakfasted like farmers. So breakfast at their house was always a treat. But never more so than when Melinda made sticky buns.

I’m not sure what made her sticky buns so much better than all others. Dan raised bees, so she naturally used honey in her recipe. But it was more than that. And I wish I had her recipe. They were, as the Dutch would say, am beschde (the best).

So, when Dorie claims that Nancy Silverton’s recipe is the ne plus ultra of sticky buns, she has a high bar to clear in my book. This, then, is a battle of superlatives: the ne plus ultra versus am beschde. And as much as I love Melinda’s sticky buns, I was pulling for Nancy’s recipe to come out on top. After all, I have her recipe available to me in my copy of Baking with Julia.

Nancy Silverton’s sticky buns recipe begins with a batch of her brioche dough. I made the dough the day before baking the sticky buns, and because it is a completely separate recipe, I gave it its own blog post.

The first step in making the sticky buns (once you’ve made your brioche dough) is laminating the dough. No, this doesn’t mean putting through a machine to encase it in plastic. In this context, laminating refers to folding (or turning) layers of butter into the dough. To do this, I divided the dough in half, and rolled one piece out to a large rectangle. Then I spread softened butter over the dough.

When I made the brioche dough, I found it much easier to work with the butter if I spread it with an offset spatula. So even though the sticky buns recipe said to dot the dough with butter, I used my spatula to spread it evenly over the entire surface of the dough. I folded the dough in thirds. letter-style, then rolled it out to roughly the same size it had been before. I folded the dough again, then wrapped it and put it in the fridge while I worked with the other half.

When the dough was chilled, I rolled one piece out again, then brushed it with an egg wash and sprinkled it with cinnamon-sugar and chopped pecans. The recipe said to roll the pecans and sugar mixture into the dough with a rolling pin, which just sounded like a mess waiting to happen. So I covered the dough with wax paper before rolling it. That kept my rolling pin clean and ready for the other half of the dough.

I rolled the dough into a tight log, which I then wrapped in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for about an hour.

This recipe makes 14 sticky buns, but as there are only four of us, I decided I didn’t want to make all the buns at once. After the initial chill, I double-wrapped one log and put it in the freezer for another day.

One of the unique things about sticky buns is that they are baked upside down and inverted onto a plate as soon as they come out of the oven. The “sticky” is a caramel sauce in the bottom of the pan that, when inverted, covers the tops of the buns and oozes down the sides, covering the entire sticky bun with ooey-gooey goodness.

Most recipes for sticky buns that I’ve seen use a caramel sauce that is cooked and then poured into the bottom of the pan. This recipe, however, makes the caramel sauce directly in the pan while the buns are baking. To do this, you use your fingers to smear a stick of butter on the bottom of the pan (at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I found this much easier to do with an offset spatula).

Then you top the butter with brown sugar.

In my final major departure from the recipe, I arranged pecans on top of the brown sugar. The recipe says to press the pecans into the top of the buns, then try to hold them in place while you invert the buns into the pan. Why not just put the pecans in the pan to begin with?

To form the buns, I cut the dough into even-sized pieces (yes, I measured them).

I flattened each roll slightly, then arranged them in the pan.

Looking at the formed rolls, I saw the results of laminating the dough.

I set the rolls aside to rise, which I knew would take a few hours, as the dough was still quite cold. After about two hours, the rolls had risen and were touching, so it was time to bake them.

I baked the sticky buns at 350°F for about 40 minutes, until they were well-risen and golden brown.

As soon as they came out of the oven, I inverted the sticky buns onto a plate.

They were beautifully layered, and the caramel flowed over and around them as if on cue. I waited for the buns to cool a bit (no sense scorching myself with hot caramel after all that work), then dug into them.

The sticky buns were rich, buttery, and pull-apart flaky. The caramel was sweet and creamy, and the pecans gave the buns a nice crunch. As far as the flavor goes, both the buns and caramel were a bit flat and tasted like they needed some salt. And the buns overall were just so-so. Better than many I have eaten around the country. But not as good as the ones I used to get in PA. And nothing like Melinda Fisher’s.

I had such high hopes for these sticky buns, especially since they used an insane amount of butter and were two days in the making. Unfortunately, they didn’t live up to the hype. And while I will continue to search for a sticky buns recipe that can live up to the ones made by Melinda Fisher, I definitely won’t be making this recipe again.

Coconut Pecan Chocolate Chunk Bars {ModBak}

This is the last bar cookie recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge. If you don’t like coconut, you won’t like these bars. If you do, you’ll love them.

This recipe starts with a rich, buttery crust made from flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and lots of butter. After mixing up the ingredients, I pressed the dough gently into the pan, then baked it for about 15 minutes, until it just started to take on some color.

While the crust was cooling, I mixed up the topping, which consisted of brown sugar, eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, sweetened shredded coconut, pecans, and bittersweet chocolate. I mixed all these ingredients together and spread the topping over the cooled crust.

I baked the bars at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until the filling was set and nicely browned. These bars smelled so good while they were baking, with the chocolate and pecans, and with the coconut getting nice and toasty.

I let the bars cool in the pan, then cut them into the recommended 2-inch squares. They were as good as they smelled. Rich, buttery, chocolatey, and with a wonderful coconut flavor.

The only thing I would do differently next time would be to cut them smaller, as they were insanely rich. I could easily see cutting the recipe in half and still having enough for the whole family. Or perhaps making the full recipe but freezing half of the slab before cutting it into bars.

Either way, I will definitely be making these again soon.

Raisin Pecan Spice Bars {ModBak}

The third recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge is an old-fashioned, straight from your grandmother’s oven kind of recipe. Spicy, chock full of raisins and nuts, Nick Malgieri hits the nail on the head when he describes these bars as “homey”.

I made a half recipe. We had plenty of sweets around, and I knew that since these bars had raisins in them, the girls would leave them for me. So instead of the 9 x 13-inch pan called for in the recipe, I broke out an 8 x 8-inch pan and lined it with parchment foil.

The bars have a lot of ingredients in them, but they mixed up quickly and were in the oven in just a few minutes. I baked the batter at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until it was well-risen and spongy to the touch, about like a cake.

I cooled the cake in the pan, then inverted it onto a cutting board, peeled off the parchment, and turned it right side up. I cut the cake into 2-inch bars.

These bars were so good! They had an almost gingerbread-like spiciness to them, and the raisins and pecans gave just the right amount of flavor and texture. To my surprise, the kids even tried them — and liked them!

This recipe is definitely a repeat. It’s especially perfect for the holidays or those cold Winter days when you want something homey and comforting to warm you.

New Orleans Praline Disks {ModBak} {Recipe}

Throughout the year, I’ve participated in a number of online food parties. I even hosted a few myself, like the Pumpkin Dinner and Thanksgiving Dinner roundups. With these “parties” everyone makes a dish, takes pictures, and posts about it on the same day. Then the host does a roundup featuring links to everyone’s posts.

These are always enjoyable, and invariably we bemoan the fact that we don’t actually get to try each other’s food. Well, this year a couple of enterprising food bloggers came up with the idea of combining real and virtual cookie exchanges. Thus was born the First Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

Here’s how it worked: everyone who signed up was sent the names and addresses of three participants. Once I got my names, I baked cookies, packed them up, and mailed one dozen to each of the three people whose names I had received. Then I sat back and waited for a dozen cookies to arrive from three other bloggers.

The cookies I received came over the course of two days. They were all delicious: peppermint sables; candy cane chocolate chunks; and a mixed dozen of molasses, double chocolate, and butterscotch cookies. It was fun making the cookies and sending them off. And of course, getting cookies in the mail made me feel like a kid at Christmas.

This is the final part of the Cookie Swap. We each agreed to post our recipes on the same day, so we could see what everyone made and have all the recipes. At last count, there were 625 participants. That’s a lot of cookies!

For my contribution, I made New Orleans Praline Disks from The Modern Baker. As it happens, these were also one of my designated posts in the Cookies section of the Modern Baker Challenge. I love pralines, so I was excited to find a cookie that has a similar flavor profile.

The cookies were easy to make. I pulsed pecans and brown sugar in the food processor, then beat butter, more brown sugar, and the pecan-sugar mixture with the mixer until it was well combined. I beat in an egg and vanilla, then mixed in flour.

The recipe said to roll a teaspoonful of dough in between your palms, but I found that using a small scoop made perfect dough rounds.

After putting the dough on the pan, I flattened the cookies slightly and sprinkled the tops with chopped pecans.

I baked the cookies at 375°F for about 12 minutes, until they were firm and well-browned around the edges.

I made some crispier than others, and I found I liked the slightly chewier ones better.

These were really delicious cookies. The flavor reminded me of pralines — buttery and sweet, with a strong pecan flavor — although they weren’t as rich as real pralines. But they were a lot easier to make, so I’m sure they’ll be showing up around here on a regular basis.

New Orleans Praline Disks (adapted from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri)

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups pecan pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment or Silpat.
  2. Place pecan pieces in bowl of food processor and pulse until chopped, but not too finely. Measure out 1/4 cup pecan pieces and set aside. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar to the food processor bowl and pulse until well mixed and pecan pieces are finely chopped.
  3. Combine remaining brown sugar, butter, and pecan-sugar mixture in a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add egg and vanilla and beat just until smooth.
  4. Add flour to bowl and mix on low just until flour is mixed in. Give the dough a final mix with a large rubber spatula.
  5. Scoop the dough onto the prepared pans with a small cookie scoop, or roll the dough by the tablespoonful between your palms to make a small balls. Space the dough balls about 1 1/2 inches apart.
  6. Flatten the spheres with your fingers and sprinkle each cookie with chopped pecans.
  7. Bake the disks in the center of the oven for about 12 minutes for chewy cookies or 15 minutes for crunchy cookies. Cool on a wire rack and store in a plastic container or zipper-top bag.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Lemon Lime Tartlets & Chocolate Caramel Pecan Tartlets — A {ModBak} Twofer

With two weeks left to go in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge, I found myself with four recipes remaining. The kids are out of town, and we decided to have a low-key day today, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to play a little catch-up. I decided to knock out three recipes at once. The lemon lime tartlet and chocolate caramel pecan tartlet recipes each make 24 tartlets, way too many to have around with just J and me to eat them. Since each recipe calls for the tart shells to be prebaked, I figured I would bake the shells together and then fill them.

As for the third recipe, well, that’s the tartlet shells for the chocolate caramel pecan tartlets. The recipe calls for shells made with chocolate nut dough, and since this is the first recipe to use that dough, I hadn’t made it yet. The lemon lime tartlets are made with sweet tart dough, which I’ve made for many of the recipes in this section.

I mixed up both doughs early in the day and let them chill in the fridge for a few hours. For the lemon lime tartlets, I rolled out the sweet tart dough, cut it into circles, and pressed each disk into a mini muffin pan. Then I did the same with the chocolate nut dough.

I chilled the dough in the pans for about an hour, then baked the shells in a 350°F oven for 12 minutes. Although I pricked the dough well with a fork before baking, the shells puffed up to the point where there was no room for filling. While the shells were still hot, I pressed the center of each one with a small ladle to make room for the filling. I cooled the crusts in the pan for a few minutes, then removed them to a cooling rack. A few of the bakers in the Challenge noted that their tartlet shells stuck when they baked them in mini muffin pans. Knowing this, I had sprayed my pan lightly with spray oil, and my shells came out beautifully.

While the tart shells were cooling, I toasted coconut for the lemon lime tartlets, then made the filling for the chocolate caramel pecan tartlets. (I didn’t have to make the lemon lime filling, as I had leftover lemon and lime curds in the fridge from making ice cream.) The chocolate filling isn’t particularly difficult, although it does require quite a few steps and dirties a lot of pans and bowls. The caramel is made in one pan while the cream is heated in another. These are combined, then scraped into a bowl to cool. Chocolate, which has been melted and cooled in another bowl, is then added to the caramel-cream mixture, and butter and nuts (which have been toasted in a separate pan) are added last.

After making the filling and shells, assembling the tartlets was a breeze. I spooned the chocolate caramel pecan tartlet filling into the shells and topped each one with a toasted pecan.

For the lemon lime tartlets, I had planned to mix my lemon and lime curds, which I had made and stored separately, but Nick cautions against overstirring the curd, lest it become too liquid. I tested this by putting a spoonful of each into a bowl and mixing them. Sure enough, the curd broke down and become too watery to hold up in the tart shells. So I filled half the shells with lemon curd and the other half with lime curd, then topped them with toasted coconut.

My wife and I enjoyed these tartlets for a late-evening snack. We loved the flavor of all three of the tartlets, although we did discover that it was best to eat the chocolate ones first, as they tended to taste a little bitter after eating the curd-filled tartlets.

These were delicious tarts, and I will definitely make them again. However, unless I’m making them for a finger-food event, I would be inclined to do them as full size tarts, rather than tartlets.

Best & Easiest Carrot Cake {Bake!}

Just before Easter, it was my turn to choose our next Twitterbake recipe from Bake!, and I quickly decided on carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. We were having family over for Easter dinner, and this seemed like a perfect, Springy dessert to have along with blueberry crumble pie and strawberry Chantilly cake.

The cake was very easy to mix up. After whisking the dry ingredients in a bowl, I mixed brown sugar, eggs, and oil in another bowl, then stirred in the dry ingredients, shredded carrots, and chopped pecans. I scraped the batter into two 9-inch cake pans and baked the cakes for 45 minutes at 375°F.

After cooling the cake layers in the pans for about 5 minutes, I removed them from the pans and let them cool completely. When the cake was cool, I mixed up the cream cheese frosting, which consisted of cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. The frosting seemed a bit too liquidy to me, and when I frosted the cake, it was clear that it should have been a bit thicker.

OK, so it wasn’t a picture-perfect cake, but it was perfectly delicious. A number of my baking friends swear by Dorie Greenspan’s carrot cake recipe from Baking: From My Kitchen to Yours. I’ve never made Dorie’s recipe, but I do have that book.

Having had Nick’s wonderful carrot cake, I need to try Dorie’s recipe. For scientific comparison purposes, of course.

Pumpkin Pecan Buttermilk Tart with Cinnamon Whipped Cream {ModBak}

The second recipe I signed up to post for the Sweet Tarts and Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge was one I knew right away I would love. I’m a huge pumpkin pie fan. In my house we eat them year-round, and we always make at least two at a time — one for the day it’s made and the other for the next day, starting with breakfast. And if you need some left for, say, Thanksgiving dinner, you have to bake a few more. And no one makes them like my mom.

So I was excited to try Nick’s recipe to see how it would stack up to mom’s normal, back-of-the-can recipe. Having made the bourbon-scented pecan tart, which blew my old pecan pie recipe out of the water, I couldn’t wait to see what Nick would do with pumpkin pie.

Like most of the recipes in this section, this one starts with sweet tart dough. I’ve really come to love this pastry dough. It is so easy to work with, and the results are consistently delicious. Because of my family’s affection for pumpkin pie, I decided to make the full recipe. So I started with an 11-inch tart crust.

The tart filling came together very quickly. After whisking pumpkin pie filling and eggs together in a bowl, I added sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and buttermilk and mixed it all together. I poured the filling into the tart shell, then topped it with chopped pecans. The recipe said to sprinkle sugar on top, but I forgot. It didn’t seem to affect the final product, although I will definitely remember it next time so I can compare.

I baked the tart for 35 minutes at 350°F, until the crust was baked through and the filling was set.

I cooled the tart for about half an hour, then removed the sides and bottom of the pan and put the tart on a cutting board while I made the cinnamon whipped cream, which consisted of heavy cream, sugar, and cinnamon.

We ate a quick dinner of leftovers so we could have the tart for dessert. I served the tart with cinnamon whipped cream on the side, to the great delight of my family — and me.

So how did Nick’s pumpkin tart stack up to mom’s much-loved pie? Sorry, Mom. You lose this throwdown — big time. The tart was delicious — creamy, spicy, sweet, but not overly so. And the crunch of the pecans was a welcome addition, as was the cinnamon whipped cream.

This is definitely my new pumpkin tart recipe. And I have a feeling that, once I make it for Mom, it will be hers, too.

New Orleans Praline Pound Cake {Bake!}

About a week ago, I Tweeted that I was sweeted out and ready for some savory recipes. So, of course when it came to my turn to choose a recipe for our Twitterbake from Nick Malgieri‘s latest book, Bake!, I chose pound cake!

I’m a big fan of pound cake, so I’ve tried a lot of recipes. One of my favorites comes from a cookbook I picked up in New Orleans about 18 years ago. It’s also one of the simplest pound cake recipes I’ve ever made. And that’s been true of the best pound cake recipes I’ve found: they are simple, straightforward, and result in a cake that it moist, flavorful, and not overly heavy.

So, I was excited to try Nick’s pound cake recipe. Recipes, in fact. He offers a basic recipe, called High-Ratio Pound Cake, and six variations. One of those variations, New Orleans Praline Pound Cake, piqued my interest, so that’s the one I chose for our Twitterbake.

First, a little history. Pound cake got its name from the volume of its four main ingredients. A classic pound cake — the one your great-great-grandmother used to make — called for one pound each of flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. As you can imagine, this resulted in a huge cake. As family sizes began to shrink, home cooks altered the recipe to make a smaller cake. As long as they kept the ratios the same, they could adjust the size of the cake to suit their needs. Sounds a lot like baker’s math, huh?

The basic pound cake batter is just that — basic. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder, salt, vanilla, and lemon zest. And even the praline variation was simple. A bit of brown sugar substituted for some of the granulated sugar, and some cinnamon, a few tablespoons of dark rum or bourbon, and a cup of pecans added to the batter.

When I had mixed up the batter, I was surprised at how light and fluffy it was. Pound cake batter is usually heavier, almost doughy, so I was anxious to see how the cake would turn out.

Just before adding the batter to the prepared pan, I folded in the pecans. As you can see in the picture above, I tossed the pecans with a small amount of flour before folding them into the batter. The recipe instruct you to do this, but doesn’t say why. The reason is that it keeps the pecans from sinking to the bottom of the loaf. Once I folded in the pecans, I scraped the batter into the pan and smoothed the top a bit.

I baked the loaf in a 325°F oven for about 75 minutes, until the tip of a knife inserted in the center of the loaf came out clean. I cooled the loaf in the pan for a few minutes, then removed it to a rack to cool completely.

This loaf rose like crazy. It puffed up so high above the top of the pan that it looked almost like a soufflé.

The praline loaf is in the back in this picture. The other loaf is a vanilla bean loaf that I mixed up while the praline pound cake was baking.

As I sliced into the loaf, I thought it looked a bit like a nut bread. But don’t let looks fool you. This was definitely a pound cake. The praline flavor was subtle and delicious. It didn’t overpower the classic pound cake flavor, but rather complemented it beautifully.

I want to try the basic pound cake recipe and a few more of the variations. But based on this recipe, I have to say Nick Malgieri has nailed the pound cake. This is easily one of the best pound cakes I’ve ever had. And it may just replace my tried and true recipe from New Orleans.

Pecan Stickiest Buns {ModBak}

The next recipe in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is Pecan Stickiest Buns. Yes, stickiest. Not sticky. Not stickier. Stickiest. The name alone gives these buns a lot to live up to. And they had some stiff competition. Having recently acquired Artisan Breads Every Day; and having tasted sticky buns baked by Peter Reinhart himself; and having baked Reinhart’s sticky buns, twice; and having grown up in Lancaster County, PA, where sticky buns are standard breakfast fare, well, let’s just say I know sticky buns.

Malgieri’s recipe starts with the sweet dough used in the previous recipe, Bakery Crumb Buns. After mixing the dough and letting it ferment for a few hours, I patted it out, then rolled it into a rectangle. I spread the dough with a filling made of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, then sprinkled on chopped pecans.

I rolled the dough into a cylinder and cut it into 15 rolls. Then I put the rolls into a pan that I had spread with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and pecan halves.

I covered the pan with greased plastic wrap and allowed the dough to proof for two hours.

After the dough had proofed, I baked the rolls at 375°F for 25 minutes, until the rolls were golden brown and firm and the sticky mixture was bubbling up between the rolls.

I let the buns cool for about five minutes in the pan, then turned them out onto a baking sheet.

So, how did these sticky buns stack up? I can safely say they were every bit as good as any I ate growing up in New Holland. As I was eating them, I thought they tasted a lot like the PR sticky buns. I recall at least one of Peter’s recipes having orange flavoring, which Nick’s did not. My wife and I agreed that we would have to taste them side by side to determine which one we liked the best.

As it turns out, Nick wasn’t just bragging when he called these “Stickiest Buns”. And he could have called them “most delicious”, too.